Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Protect the unions, soak the city taxpayers again

Peter Bronson

If City Hall ran a car wash, seven out of nine council members would drive through with their windows down. And taxpayers would be the ones who got soaked.

That's what happened when council voted 7-2 to adopt a "living wage'' ordinance a year ago. Only Republicans Pat DeWine and Chris Monzel voted no.

But last week, council was embarrassed into passing an exemption for the Parkway Auto Wash on Central Parkway, because otherwise the car wash would have been forced to drop its 25-year contract to wash city cars.

"We don't want to lose it,'' said Parkway manager Deborah Collins. "But if we're forced to implement the living wage, I will give up the contract.''

The reason is simple arithmetic. To add higher wages, Parkway has to subtract jobs - or stick it to taxpayers.

The ordinance says any business with a city contract of $20,000 or more must pay its workers $8.70 an hour, with full benefits. If benefits are not provided, employers must pay $10.20 an hour.

That would bust Parkway's payroll with an additional $200,000 per year in wages, Collins said. Rather than lay off a third of the 24 workers, she said she would stop washing city cars.

Some Parkway workers make $9 an hour, and some make minimum wage plus tips that can hit $100 on a good day of 800 cars.

"We warned them at the time that artificially raising what people are paid means people will lose their jobs,'' DeWine said.

Last week, he asked for a repeal. "It doesn't help workers, it actually hurts them,'' he said. "If we're doing it for the workers, why not ask the workers?''

Councilman David Pepper asked the crew at Parkway - and they begged him to dump the living wage.

Bingo. It's not about workers. Living wage sponsor John Cranley accidentally let the cat out of the union bag. "The idea of the living wage is that you don't make savings by paying people less than a city worker makes,'' he said.

There it is. The "living wage'' is a union-protection firewall to block privatization of city services. If private contractors have to pay union wages, they can't bid lower and taxpayers can't save money.

City Journal says "warmed over socialism'' living-wage laws have been enacted in 80 cities, where economic damage is measured in lost jobs, higher taxes, deteriorating services, crippled businesses and less competition for bids.

The article cited a Congressional Budget Office report that said raising the minimum wage to $6.65 an hour would kill 200,000 to 600,000 jobs and cost employers $7 billion a year. But even Congress wouldn't raise the $5.15 minimum wage by $1.50 without phasing it in. City Council raised it $3.55 in one staggering step.

Someone has to pay. You can't demand more wages per gallon without losing economic horsepower.

Four council members voted against an exemption for Parkway to save the jobs of employees on the job there for 30 to 50 years.

"Car washes will cost more, but that's our policy,'' said David Crowley, whose employees at Crowley's Pub in Mount Adams do not get a "living wage.'' They make $6 an hour, plus tips up to $20 an hour. "I don't have a city contract,'' he explained.

Taxpayers are getting hosed while council members tank up on union donations. That's their policy.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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